How to Travel From Madrid to Bilbao by Train, Bus, Car, and Plane

Aerial view of tourists on walkway over urban canal, Bilbao, Biscay, Spain
Chris Clor / Getty Images

As the largest city in the Basque country, a region in the north of Spain with its own unique culture and language, Bilbao is a great home base for exploring this unique corner of the Iberian peninsula. From Madrid, Bilbao is 252 miles (405 kilometers) away and there are many ways to get there. While it's possible to fly if you're short on time, bus, train, and car travel can be more affordable and more exciting when you embrace traveling at a slower pace.

  Time Cost Best
Train 5 hours from $36 Convenience
Bus 5 hours, 45 minutes from $26 Budget travel
Flight 1 hour from $33 Quickest route
Car 4 hours  252 miles (405 kilometers) A Spanish road trip

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Madrid to Bilbao?

Although you may occasionally be able to find deep discounts on airline fares, the bus to Bilbao is consistently the cheapest option. Via the bus line ALSA, you can find tickets for as low as $26, but the journey is quite long taking on average five hours, 45 minutes. Buses from Madrid depart throughout the day from the Avenida de America bus station and arrive in Bilbao at the Intermodal Bus Station. Avoid booking this route with FlixBus, since the only service they offers requires transferring in Bordeaux, France, which is over 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of Bilbao .

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Madrid to Bilbao?

The flight between Madrid and Bilbao takes just one hour, 15 minutes and just two airlines, Air Europa and Iberia, run regular nonstop flights between the two cities. Because this flight is so short, be sure to avoid any flight route that involves a layover in another city. Tickets can be quite cheap, but typically cost between $30 and $150.

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

It takes at least four hours to drive to Bilbao from Madrid and the route is pretty straightforward. From Madrid, you'll simply drive north on the E-5, which will eventually turn into the A-1 and the AP-1. Be aware that AP roads in Spain are toll roads. Eventually, you'll merge to take the AP-68 towards Bilbao and can follow this road all the way to the city. As you enter Basque country and approach Bilbao, consider stopping to see the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz or, if you like hiking, you can visit the forests of Gorbea Natural Park.

How Long Is the Train Ride?

Faster than the bus, the Renfe train from Madrid to Bilbao takes about five hours. Although there are only two trains per day, the train is generally more convenient because there is no risk of hitting traffic and because Bilbao's train station is more centrally located than its bus station. It's a relatively short ride so one-way tickets on average cost between $30 and $40. Trains leave Madrid from Chamartin Station, which is in the northern part of the city.

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Bilbao?

For the best weather conditions, summer is the ideal time to plan a trip to Bilbao. Unlike the rest of the Spain, especially the south, where summers see extremely hot temperatures, the weather in Bilbao is quite cool in the summer thanks to the Basque country's hilly geography and temperate climate. Although the season might attract more crowds, you'll also find more excitement in the city during the summer with the White Night in June and the Semana Grande in August.

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

The Bilbao International Airport (BIO) is just 8 miles (13 kilometers) away from the center of the city. It's a short 15-minute cab ride, but if you're on a budget you can also take a public bus, which leaves every half hour. The public bus (Termibus A3247) takes about 45 minutes and costs about $2. You will arrive at the Bilbao Intermodal Bus Station, which is a short walk to the city's San Mamés Soccer Stadium.

What Is There to Do in Bilbao?

Bilbao is home to its own Guggenheim Museum, which is one of the country's greatest modern art museums. It's rivaled only by the Reina Sofia in Madrid. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg for art and architecture lovers in Bilbao, who may also be interested in visiting the Museum of Fine Arts or walking across the curved Zubizuri Bridge.

History buffs might prefer to spend their time in Casco Viejo, the oldest part of the city which dates back to the end of the 14th century. You can enjoy walking its Siete Calles (Seven Streets) and perusing the gourmet food purveyors, boutiques, and Spanish bakeries. When you need a pick-me-up, visit a local bar and try Txakoli, the local sparkling wine. If your tasting inspires you to explore the regional wines a bit more, you can sign up for a tour to explore the wineries in the nearby region of Rioja.

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